Having spearheaded the development of MotoGP winglets, Ducati was tipped as the team to watch when it came to incorporating the devices within the actual fairing, as required by the 2017 rules.

The wait was longer than some had expected - four of Ducati's five rivals have already debuted various 'integrated winglet' solutions - but the Italian factory certainly didn't disappoint in terms of a radical design.

On the penultimate night of pre-season testing in Qatar, Andrea Dovizioso's GP17 was fitted with a fairing that wouldn't have looked out of place on the front of a single-seater racing car.

As dictated by the new rules, and much to Ducati's disgust, external winglets have been banned as a potential safety risk. Aerodynamic "devices or shapes" can no longer protrude from the fairing and must be "integrated in the body streamlining."

Technical Director Danny Aldridge is the sole judge of whether a fairing fits within the new rules.

With those restrictions in mind, winglets must now be built-in or at least covered, creating - in Ducati's case - a tunnel on either side.

Rather than housing a normal winglet inside, the lower surface of the tunnel itself produces the downforce. Aprilia has opted for a similar, albeit far milder, concept which mimics much of the traditional front fairing shape.

By contrast, the Ducati fairing has a distinct single seater-style 'nose' running down the centre, no wider than the air intake, to divert the maximum amount of air flow (and therefore downforce) through the side pods without increasing bike width.

"It was nice to feel the effect of the new fairing, because it was very difficult to create a good fairing, with a similar downforce like last year with the new rules. Our engineers did a great job," said Dovizioso, speaking at the circuit on Saturday night.

How close is the downforce level to the former wings?

"I think very close. Not the same, but very close. But which wings? Because we had a lot in the last years!"

The Italian revealed he may not test the fairing again this weekend simply because Ducati already understand enough about it to know when it will be needed. In other words, it works as intended.

"I don't know if we will use again this weekend at this track. I think we have the situation under control about what the fairing is doing, what the winglets did last year... we are able to decide when to use that fairing," he explained.

"Still it is not fixed, we will see. But I'm not concentrating on that. I'm focussed to improve, always the same our problems - and still is there."

And that problem is turning: "Yeah, after Gigi's fix is not a great problem, but still the bike is too hard to ride when you have to do a full race distance. It is still too difficult to manage. We can be fast but it is difficult to manage all the movement and this is so important in our category. So I'm focussed also on that, but it is not something we can find just with set-up."

Dovizioso, fastest on Friday, was one of only three riders to lap slower on Saturday and slipped to 13th on the timesheets (+1.128s) as a result. New team-mate and triple MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo was eighth (+0.889s), but behind the 2016 Desmosedici of Aspar's Alvaro Bautista.

"I'm not worried about the lap time of everybody, we were able to be much faster, but today was more difficult than yesterday because the grip was half and also with the wind it became worse. So we struggled a lot," said the Sepang 2016 winner.

"But I'm happy to have these conditions, because they might be normal conditions for the race weekend here. One day can be like this, one day like yesterday. So it was very important to work in these conditions.

"What happened today gave us a lot of feedback on which direction to go, what happens when we have these conditions with a lot of humidity.

"So I'm not happy like yesterday, because the bike worked in a completely different way in these conditions, but for sure we are one of the fastest. I think at this point Vinales is really fast in every condition, which is really bad for us and everybody else."

And it's not just over one lap; Dovizioso feels Vinales is the clear championship favourite at this stage: "At this moment, for sure. Anything can happen during the championship and last year with Marc, it showed the reality. But in this moment 100%, for everything - his talent, he is young and the bike he has."

The former winglets helped provide braking stability and improved acceleration by reducing wheelies. The downside, aside from concerns raised by riders about potential injuries in the event of a collision, is that they made a bike feel heavier to turn at high speed.

Each team, with the exception of new manufacturer KTM, is allowed to homologate one 2016 (wingless) fairing and one 2017 design for the opening race in Qatar. From that point until the end of the season only one update to the fairing and front fender is allowed.

That new rule is intended to limit the rate of aerodynamic development, but has also encouraged manufacturers to keep their fairing designs secret for as long as possible.

For example, should Ducati's rivals decide the Desmosedici fairing is more effective than their own 2017 designs, they now have less than two weeks to design and deliver a replica for round one.

For the notoriously cautious Japanese teams that is not likely to be long enough to meet their rigorous safety standards, especially since - unless they schedule a private test - they will not be able to ask their race riders to try the fairing before it is homologated at Losail.

If Ducati has found the best solution to the new rules, and many believe the sheer volume of air they will be able to force through the tunnels means it should create the most downforce, they might well enjoy a significant head start.

The Desmosedici's record-breaking top speed also means Ducati can tolerate some additional drag, which others cannot. Aprilia's Aleix Espargaro, for example, has made clear that any loss of top speed will be a red line in terms of using the RS-GP winglet fairing.

A potential downside of the Ducati design is that, while Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda can change the size and shape of their covered winglets without breaking the new ban on exterior fairing changes, this may not be possible with the Ducati and Aprilia concepts, where the wing section is a major part of the actual structure.

Ducati first ran the previous generation of 'normal' winglets on the side of its Desmosedici on the same day, of the same test, in 2015.

The final night of 2017 pre-season testing will run from 4pm until 11pm on Sunday.

By Peter McLaren



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